Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
Boxes. Boxes everywhere. Stacked on top of each other, scattered messily around the warehouse and some were torn open as if a child had been rummaging through them. The boxes held nothing of interest, at least not to the particular child who had been searching through them for upwards of two days now. All Nathan had found were old phone books, collections of outdated currency and other various nick-knacks hidden amongst the cardboard boxes. To pass the time, he sorted the books into two pyramid piles, the collection of coins were thrown off to the side and the other nick-knacks were compiled into a collage of organized chaos. Useless junk, is what it was.
“I wish I had mommy and dad…” A none-too familiar sensation stabbed at him just then. He clutched at his stomach in pain, doubling over against flimsy sheet metal, feet planted firmly in place. A groan echoed off the walls – not again, he thought. He exhaled in an attempt at subduing the knot in his stomach that just kept getting tighter and tighter. He kept up the breathing techniques for a couple minutes: breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth, in, out.
Eventually, the pain dwindled away. He let his muscles relax, slumping against the wall with nothing more than a dull feeling of relief washing over him.
“I wish I was home…”
And that’s when the flashbacks struck. A pitch-black night. Snow swirling in the air. A familiar porch light shining in the distance. The sound of footsteps crunching behind him. Heart pulsing in his ears. Pace picking up to a jog. Louder, faster footsteps. A hand yanking him back. Another covering his mouth. And then, complete darkness.
Nate’s muscles were coiled, eyes shut tight and lips were set hard in a pained sneer. He gnashed his teeth together, breath constricting, as he was forced to his hands and knees. Even in the situation that he’s in, he couldn’t muster up the least bit of hatred for the unknown man who had stolen him not but a hundred feet from his own home. No, the only person he could ever have the courage to blame was himself. A harsh wind blew through the warehouse, wailing and toppling boxes. He stared down at ground in fear when the same heavy footfalls approached.
“You wish you were home? You wish you had your parents?” A deep callous voice asked, and the kid’s head was yanked up almost mechanically. He yelped in pain at the sudden movement. His mind repeated a mantra of ‘all your faults’ as he looked up. Tears welled in his eyes upon first sight of the man – the skin had a texture that he couldn’t quite identify, and the rest of his body seemed to be one huge dark blur, even when not in motion. He couldn’t make out any defining characteristics, other than the bridge of a nose leading up to the vague black outline of eyes. All Nate knew was that whatever was standing in front of him was not human.
The thing came closer, hand reaching out to the kid. His fingers traced up Nathan’s face and through his hair. The touch was strangely calming. His eyelids began to feel heavy, and fatigue hit him in waves. All he could see before slipping off into unconsciousness was the other hand being lifted to his eyes.
His head fell. It startled him awake, head snapping upright. He was forced to his feet. He felt a bloated warmth spreading throughout his body as the shadow latched on to the back of him, hand still covering his eyes. He stumbled in place. Eyes darted frantically around the warehouse, head fuzzy with static. A black film seemed to be covering his vision. He let out a shaky breath when the voice came back, rumbling in his ears.
“Your parents are here,” His body was turned towards the piles of old phone books. There his parents hung, mangled and bloodied, a rope tied around each of their broken necks. Their toes barely skimmed the stacks of books. A blood-curdling scream ripped out of him and new tears stung at his eyes. It felt as if a rug was pulled out from under his feet. His entire world. Gone. A loud sob racked his body. The shadow seemingly embraced the small boy.
“They got in the way. It was for the best,” He whispered soothingly into his ear. Sobs continued to erupt from the young boy. The shadow, a bit irritated, diverted the kid’s attention to the opposite side of the room, where the coins were scattered carelessly around cardboard boxes.
Blood seeped in through cracks in the floorboards, he noticed. Red pooled around the coins, covering them and spreading out to the surrounding cardboard. The mere sight of it caused bile to rise in Nate’s throat.
“There have been others before you. They rebelled.” It said, and Nate tried backing away. After two retreating steps back, he was shoved forward and something sharp ripped down his skin.
“Stop…” His eyes grew wide in fear, breath hitched at the anger radiating off of the shadow, all he could feel was the shadow tearing his skin open bit by bit. Tears flowed freely down his face and a pained noise escaped him.
“Don’t rebel. You’ll end up just. Like. Them,” It snarled in his ear, tearing further down his back. It forced Nate’s body to turn to the pile of nick-knacks. “These things you found were something important to each and every one of those kids,” The shadow explained, “You either take or give one. Your choice,” Nate trembled. He was pushed forward again. His hand shot down to his pocket when he felt something weighing it down. He pulled the object out and, through the black film, noted it as his father’s lucky golden watch. He hesitantly dropped it into the pile, giving away the one tie he still had to the real world. The one thing keeping it from overshadowing him. Gone.
And then, in a flashing moment, Nathan and the shadow merged. It took over his being, stretching out its arms and legs, flexing its muscles to get used to the body. It was warm and comforting, as if it belonged there all along.
“… And now, this is your home.” Nathan let out a calming breath. He was no longer scared, no longer filled with sorrow and grief. He was emotionless. He embraced the shadow’s presence, and just just as he slipped into unconsciousness, saw another hand being lifted to cover his eyes.